The Republican Party is all in on the effort to keep the anti-Trump public from casting anti-Trump votes. The Republican National Committee has established a program to “protect the vote” by monitoring polling places, challenging voters deemed suspicious and blocking efforts to expand vote-by-mail or relax voting restrictions. The Trump campaign, likewise, is suing to shape mail-in voting in a way that might give the president a strategic advantage. In Pennsylvania, for example, it wants to keep voters from using officially designated drop boxes for their ballots, forcing them to go through the mail system.
There are still other ways in which Trump is trying to optimize for minoritarian victories. On Monday, his Census Bureau announced it would end all counting efforts a month early, in order to “accelerate completion of data collection and apportionment counts.” It’s a last-minute change that threatens the accuracy of the census, and there’s a strong chance that any undercount will disadvantage Black and immigrant communities, robbing them of resources and representation that will go, instead, to whiter and more rural areas. This won’t affect the upcoming election, but it would shape American politics for the next decade in the Republican Party’s favor.
If all of this succeeds — if he sabotages voting just enough to eke out another Electoral College victory — then Trump will be the first president since the advent of a presidential “popular vote” to win two terms without also winning the most votes. It would be the third such misfire since 2000, another instance in which Democrats won the largest share of voters without winning power.
Yes, everyone knows the rules of American presidential elections. But those rules survived, in part, because this divergence was extremely rare. Before the 2000 election, it had happened only three times: 1824, 1876 and 1888. The Electoral College may not have been the most modern way to conduct a national election, but its outcomes did not consistently violate our democratic intuitions, our collective expectation that one person equals one vote.
For Trump to win, again, without winning the most votes would shatter whatever remaining faith millions of Americans have in the political system. Our simmering legitimacy crisis would almost certainly heat to a boil. After such an outcome, how could you say this was a democracy? How could you say, if you prefer the terminology of the 18th century instead, that this was a republic?
It is true our system was meant to hedge against the “tyranny of the majority.” But that’s why it has multiple and overlapping spheres of representation. The goal was balance, not a system where the arbitrary distribution of voters could meet the abuse of power to produce an almost permanent advantage for one side over the other. That is the tyranny of the minority, which is just another way of saying tyranny.